NFL Wild Card Sunday Predictions

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Yesterday’s Wild Card upsets have certainly put today’s favorites on notice.

If yesterday’s games are any sign of how the NFL Playoffs are going to play out, we’re in for a thrill ride. The Tennessee Titans regrouped in the second half to stun the heavily favored Kansas City Chiefs 22-21. The Chiefs have lost their last six playoff games at home and are 1-4 under Andy Reid. In the nightcap, the reigning NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons rediscovered their offensive mojo at the same time stifling a potent Los Angeles Rams offense to cruise to a 26-13 upset victory.

In today’s games, the Buffalo Bills travel to Jacksonville to take on the upstart Jaguars while the Carolina Panthers face their NFC South division rival New Orleans Saints who are looking for a three-game season sweep and the right to face the Minnesota Vikings next week.

Buffalo Bills (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) 1:05 PM (CBS)

The Buffalo Bills danced into the NFL’s postseason through the back door on New Year’s Eve after a 19-year absence. Buffalo comes into Jacksonville limping and not sure how long running back LeSean McCoy (ankle) and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (knee) can go, if at all. Offensively, everything hinges on the play of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Despite being benched for reasons beyond comprehension at a critical point in the season, Taylor still managed to pass for close to 2,800 yards and toss 14 touchdowns to only 4 picks. Taylor is second on the team in rushing with four touchdowns. The Bills need a superhuman effort from Taylor with or without McCoy behind him. The Bills 28th ranked run defense as to find a way to corral Jacksonville’s outstanding rookie running back Leonard Fournette.

The Jacksonville Jaguars come into the postseason on the back of the NFL’s second overall defense and the top rated passing defense. After jumping out to a 7-3 start the Jags cooled off splitting their last six games. The Jaguars offense has pretty much lived and died with the play of quarterback Blake Bortles. If Bortles can get into an early rhythm it makes Fournette all the more dangerous. Bortles has serviceable hands in Marquise Lee, Allen Hurns and Keelan Cole. Tight end Marcedes Lewis leads the team with five receiving touchdowns making him a practical target for Bortles in any passing situation.

Breakdown

The Bills can win this game — Jacksonville’s run defense (21st) can be had — it all depends on the effectiveness of McCoy and Taylor if he’s flushed out. Defensively, Buffalo has to box in Fournette and make Bortles beat them. This is a tall order against a team that was 6-2 at home this season. This is one game where the Jaguars should hand it off to Fournette 25-30 times and lean heavily on the defense. They can ill afford to leave this game in the hands of Bortles in his first playoff game.

Player to watch: Jalen Ramsey

Prediction: Bills 24 – Jaguars 22


Carolina Panthers (11-5) at New Orleans Saints (11-5) 4:40 PM (FOX)

The playoffs are a welcome sight after what has been a tumultuous season in Carolina. The reward for an 11-5 finish is a third meeting with the New Orleans Saints who have outscored them 65-34 in the previous two meetings. As usual the epicenter of the Carolina offense is Cam Newton who accounted for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. Newton’s struggles in the passing game can be attributed to being without All-Pro tight-end Greg Olson for most of the season. The running game has some fresh legs in rookie Christian McCaffrey, spelling the brittle Jonathan Stewart in certain packages. Wide receiver Devin Funchess emerged as Newton’s primary target in Olson’s absence. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis remain the stalwarts in a still formidable Panthers defense.

The New Orleans Saints plan to ride their newfound rushing attack with the capable arm of Drew Brees all the way to Minnesota. In two meetings against the Panthers in the regular season, Brees has passed for over 600 yards and four touchdowns. The backfield tandem of veteran Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara has kept opposing defenses on their heels a good part of the season. Second year receiver Michael Thomas has been a pleasant surprise, his 1,245 receiving yards and five scores leads the team. Defensive End Cameron Jordan anchors a young aggressive defensive unit.

Breakdown

I didn’t like the way Cam Newton looked in Week 17 against the Atlanta Falcons. His passes were high and the offense wasn’t in sync. The return of Greg Olson gives him another outlet, but McCaffrey and Stewart must set the tone early. The Panthers defense has to find a way to keep the speed of the Saints in front of them. This is a team that can strike fast or lull you to sleep. The Saints will use Kamara in the running and return game along with anything else Sean Payton can think of.  The Saints know they can’t allow Newton to take over this game, they also know there isn’t much to worry about when he’s not on. The plan is to disrupt him early and often.

Player to watch: Alvin Kamara

Prediction: Saints 33 – Panthers 20

 

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